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California trails nation in reading, math and science, report finds

February 21, 2013 |  4:52 pm

California has largely trailed the rest of the country in reading, mathematics and science in the last decade, according to an analysis released Thursday of test results from the five most populous states.

The National Center for Education Statistics studied the performance of public school students in the five largest states -- California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas -- on the National Assessment of Educational Program exams from 1990 to 2011. The standardized tests are typically given to fourth- and eighth-graders.

Of the five states, which educate 40% of the country’s schoolchildren, California has the greatest number of schools and spends less than the national average per pupil, the report said. The state also has the highest student-to-teacher ratio and consistently falls short of the national average in all subjects, the report said.

Richard Zeiger, chief deputy state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement that the scores reflect the enormous challenges the state faces. One in four students is learning English, and half the state’s children are from low-income and poverty-level families.

Paired with the state’s demographics was “a sustained disinvestment in public education, made all the more severe by the Great Recession,” he said.

“Given those realities,” he said, “what’s noteworthy is that California’s achievement levels are as similar as they are to the other states in the study.”

Overall, from 2009 to 2011, the five states posted mixed results when compared nationally on the exams -- with California being the only state to fall below national averages in each subject.

The five states exemplify the widely changing demographics of student populations over the last two decades, the report said.

Nationally, the percentage of white students in eighth grade declined, to 54% in 2011 from 73% in 1990. Over that same time, Latino students in eighth grade ballooned to 23% from 7%.

In California and Texas, Latino students are now the majority, making up 52% and 51% of the student populations respectively.

More than half of all eighth-grade students in California are Latino, but only 14% of those Latino eighth-graders are at grade level on state standardized reading tests, the report said. In math, 13% of those students reach proficiency on the exams. In Texas, 33% of students score in the proficient range.

California’s struggles were not limited to Latino students. Overall, fourth- and eighth- graders in the state consistently fell below national averages in 2011. Meanwhile, fourth-graders in Florida scored above the national average.

In the last two decades, however, California’s gains by black students in fourth-grade reading and math made up a larger increase than black students nationally, the report said.

From 2009 to 2011, fourth-graders in New York scored higher in reading than the national average but trailed in math. Eighth-graders in the same time period scored lower than the nation in math and science.

Low-income eighth-grade students in New York, however, surpassed national averages of students scoring at a proficient level in reading.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

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